Why Cultural Competency Training Should Be Offered to Mentors and Mentoring Program Staff

Posted by eporter on February 27, 2024

Why Cultural Competency Training Should Be Offered to Mentors and Mentoring Program Staff

Abbey N. Collins, B.A

In the United States, the number of youth involved in mentoring programs has grown considerably over the past century since the establishment of the first organized mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.1,2 In particular, mentoring programs are popular interventions for a great number of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth.3,4 In fact, it is estimated that approximately 76% of the mentees served in the U.S. are BIPOC children and adolescents; however, the majority (53%) of the mentors who serve these populations are non-Hispanic White individuals.3,5 This discrepancy in race and background often creates a “sociocultural gap” in which there is a disconnect between the experiences of the mentors and their mentees, which might have deleterious impacts, not only on the mentoring relationship but also on the mentee.6,7 To address this gap, youth mentoring programs have begun implementing cultural competency training for mentors to help mentors better understand the background and experiences their mentees bring to the mentoring relationship.

Cultural competency refers to the capacity of an individual to effectively work with another individual of a cultural group, which may entail learning about various aspects of their own and others’ cultural backgrounds and experiences. Sánchez and colleagues describe three main tenants of cultural competence which include, 1) cultural awareness and beliefs, 2) cultural knowledge, and 3) cultural skills.8 By building cultural awareness, one may become more aware of their own cultural norms and beliefs, how they may affect their day-to-day interactions with others, and how those actions may be perceived by others. In addition, building cultural awareness may involve developing a better understanding of how one’s own background and experiences may impact their views of others and becoming aware of the harmful stereotypes or beliefs they may hold towards other cultures. Cultural knowledge may involve becoming more informed about others’ cultural values, practices, and beliefs. With cultural awareness and cultural knowledge, one can begin to develop and practice cultural skills. Cultural skills include strategies that individuals can use to interact with individuals of other cultures in ways that are respectful, emphasize the importance of the other individual’s cultural beliefs and values, and foster relationship success.

The central goal of cultural competency training for mentors is to increase mentors’ knowledge about the culture they come from as well as the culture and customs of other individuals.9 Developing cultural competency can help mentors foster empathy, understanding, and the desire to advocate for their mentees. Additionally, cultural competency can be vital to the success of mentors working with youth from diverse backgrounds because it may help mentors establish realistic expectations about what their role as a mentor is and what their relationship with their mentee will most likely be like.8,10,11 For example, in many Black and Latino communities, children grow up with “natural mentors” where they develop informal mentoring relationships with family members or trusted adults in their community.12,13 It is important for mentors serving BIPOC mentees to understand this cultural practice, so they are not under the assumption that they are the only trusted adult or role model in their mentee’s life or devalue the existing mentoring relationships that their mentee may value. There are numerous complexities and nuances that come with working with mentees from different backgrounds as a mentor.

So, why should mentoring programs care? What is the bigger picture? As a mentor or program staff member, you are in a privileged position to walk alongside children and adolescents as they begin to navigate life more independently and are exposed to the difficult realities of the society that we live in. Mentors have the unique opportunity to encourage and equip their mentees with knowledge, resources, and skills that can benefit their lives in myriad ways, far beyond the mentoring relationship. When mentoring relationships are approached with intention, working towards not only cultural competency but a full understanding of the ways that histories and systems of racism and discrimination have impacted young people, both mentors and mentees may be empowered to engage in difficult conversations and situations to work towards meaningful change and understanding. Moreover, research suggests that mentors that exhibit these mentoring practices can improve their mentee’s ethnic identity exploration, positive view of their identity, sense of belonging, academic success, reliance and retention in various fields, self-efficacy, and developmental outcomes.1,3,4,9,14,15,16,17 Mentorship can look different for each match, and each has its unique strengths and goals. However, a mentoring relationship that involves cultural competency may produce the most transformative and equitable outcomes for historically underrepresented minority students.17 Ultimately, as a mentor or program staff member, it is important to aim to remove barriers, foster autonomy, and promote success in the life of mentees, and the path to achieving these goals may look different when a mentee comes from a marginalized background. Although this process may be involved and at times uncomfortable, this work is essential to promoting mentees’ abilities to pursue their goals and dreams while navigating life and the unavoidable barriers that come with being a BIPOC individual in the United States.18

Mentoring Central is dedicated to continuously developing staff and mentor training on fundamental and advanced training topics to support youth with diverse backgrounds and needs. This is why Mentoring Central has integrated cultural competency concepts into the recently released pre-match training course for mentors and program staff supporting youth in STEM mentoring programs. The training course is strategically designed to teach mentors and staff skills and knowledge to support mentees who are underrepresented in STEM fields, such as girls, BIPOC individuals, first generation college students, children who are refugees or immigrants, and youth with a disability. Consistent with the definition of cultural competency, the course includes training on cultural awareness, cultural knowledge, and cultural skills. For example, one lesson is on cultural competency and aims to increase cultural awareness by providing mentors with opportunities to reflect on their own backgrounds and beliefs, and by discussing the importance of understanding intersectionality. In addition, the course aims to increase mentors’ cultural knowledge by including training on the interpersonal and systemic barriers to inclusion. The course promotes the development of cultural skills by providing tips for mentors to give culturally sensitive feedback to a mentee and use microaffirmations to promote mentees’ feelings of belonging and inclusion as well as individuality. The course also includes a lesson that raises awareness and knowledge about the subtle and often, indirect, forms of aggression called microaggressions. More specifically, the course includes skills training on how to support mentees who have been the victim of microaggressions, so mentors can boost mentees’ confidence and their abilities to handle potential future microaggressions in safe and healthy ways.

Mentoring Central has also created advanced training for mentors and staff serving special populations of youth, namely, children exposed to opioids and other drugs. The course incorporates cultural competency training concepts by aiming to increase mentors’ awareness of their own potential experiences and harmful biases or stereotypes related to substance misuse, increase mentors’ knowledge about the experiences of individuals impacted by substance misuse, and provide skills training on ways to support mentees impacted by substance use in a respectful way that upholds their mentee’s self-esteem and identity.

To learn more about the importance of cultural competency and mentoring, subscribe to the Mentoring Central newsletter to receive next month’s blog about what should be included in cultural competency trainings for mentors. Sign up for the newsletter by following this link: https://mentoringcentral.net/contact/.


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